Student Spotlight 2023: Jennifer Mallari, U.S. Air Force

Tell us about yourself.

I am from San Francisco, California, and I retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service. I started off as a supply troop kicking boxes around a warehouse, then was retrained into an intelligence analyst on ISR aircraft during the height of Afghanistan. I joined the military because I’ve always wanted to live on my own and forge my own path without my grandparent’s help. They wanted me to be a nurse and would’ve paid for my whole education, but I didn’t want to burden them. If you know any Filipinos, you know most of them are nurses. It was a huge left turn when I told them I wanted to join two years after 9/11. I also didn’t want to fail at being a nurse, so the easiest thing to do was figure out what I was going to be good at. The military was what the 18-year-old me decided. I initially joined for the education benefits but eventually kept reenlisting because the people I met along the way made being in the service worthwhile. A fun fact about me is that I’m a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and I dance Tahitian.

Why did you decide to participate in WSP this summer, and was there a shift in your confidence level from the first day of the course to the last day?

I found out about Warrior-Scholar Project through the VA website, so I decided to apply. My confidence was definitely low going into the humanities and business course hosted by Notre Dame. All that reading and Tocqueville was very overwhelming. I didn’t connect with the material; therefore, the assignments were difficult for me. By the end of the course, my confidence had improved to medium. I’m a natural public speaker, and I briefed commanders for the last 12 years of my career, so the business week was more bearable.

What were some key insights you gained during your course, and what is your biggest takeaway?

CHAPTER 31!!!! I was misinformed before, and the VA website doesn’t do a great job of explaining these benefits. So being around a diverse bunch who have used Ch 31, the GI Bill, and other loan options was very informative. However, my biggest takeaway was knowing that there is a whole community of support out there willing to help and have my back. I didn’t think it was possible to have that after retiring from the military. So many times, I read comments in the Slack channel with so much commonality among veterans who have gone through the same thing. They’re not only willing to share their experience but help me get to where I need to be.

How would you describe your overall experience?

Hopeful! I didn’t think I would even go back to school when I got out. After having children, my focus was full on mommy mode and work. I figured that I’d be too old to start over trying to finish my degree. Attending the first-ever all-women’s cohort at Notre Dame and meeting such amazing, accomplished women gave me hope that my future wasn’t on a time limit. That’s it’s OK to take a break and refocus on myself. I am excited for this next chapter of my life, and I will not let my insecurities stop me from moving forward.

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